Director: Matt Reeves
Writer: Drew Goddard
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller
Disclaimer: In my review at no time will you see me write ‘9/11’ or ‘Twenty-somethings’ because GODDAMNIT.
I think I was one of the many people surprised at the clever then-untitled trailer of this movie when I first saw it, and at the time I was pretty excited to learn more. When you think about it, it was a pretty well done marketing campaign, and that was actually one of the biggest reasons I was nervous going into the theater to watch this film when it was finally released. There also seemed to be a lot less marketing happening from the first trailer until a few weeks before the release. Nevertheless, I was still really excited to see it and went into the theater with high hopes. Luckily, my hopes were not destroyed, and I was treated to a very unique action/horror movie.
First off, I’ve heard a lot of people were really unimpressed with the acting of the lead characters. Personally, I thought they were believable and realistic and seemed like actual regular twenty-someth-uh, teenagers. Hud, the camera man (a clever in joke to any nerds out there who know that Hud is often used to describe the ‘Heads Up Display’ in most first person videogames) was actually very entertaining and provided some humor throughout the movie. But of course, this ain’t no comedy, and I felt the terror, panic, and unease felt by these characters was admirably portrayed by the actors. There were only a few moments where I felt the character’s actions were unrealistic, but that’s more a script issue than an acting one. Considering the movie itself isn’t a character piece and a fucking MONSTER MOVIE the acting shouldn’t be the focus anyway.
This movie is very unique (apart from maybe the Blair Witch Project) in it’s visual style. Shot entirely using personal camcorders, we basically get to see the events unfold along with the characters from the camera’s point of view. It’s actually very interesting in that it shows us the entire tape that was ‘recovered’ in what used to be central park (according to the opening titles) and that includes the irrelevant (seemingly) part of the tape that takes place months before the actual attacks. This ‘original’ footage is then ‘taped over’ on the day of the attacks and it’s a great way to set up the realism within the movie and it even cuts back to the original footage every so often, as it would do on a real camera.
The monster itself is done very well. We only get brief glimpses of it (up until a ‘money shot’ near the end) and you really feel like you’re experiencing these events with the characters. The way it’s shot and presented is truly nerve wracking and often times downright terrifying. The destruction of the city and the little baby monsters were also realistically portrayed, and at no time did I think anything was ‘obviously’ CG. There were some other neat tricks they were able to do using the ‘shot on a camcorder’ technique, like switching to night vision and turning the flashlight of the camera on. One shot near the end, when the camera is knocked to the ground unmanned, had a brilliant little moment where the auto-focus went nuts because there were a couple things it was trying to focus on. It was a very cool visual and I thought the idea was fresh and original.
Some people complained about motion sickness but I never sensed any myself, and I think those people are just pansies.
Honestly, I think this is one of the only movies I was completely captivated by from start to finish. I don’t think it’s ever possible to completely forget you are watching a movie, but it’s one of the first times I never analyzed, or complained, or thought ‘when is it going to end’ (a thought I get for movies I both love or hate) while watching. They really did a phenomenal job of bringing you right into the events that are taking place on screen. You begin to feel like you are right there with the characters, and you know what they know, you see what they see, and learn what they learn. Do we ever find out exactly what this thing is that is attacking the city? Not really. The only clue is given in the final moments of the movie, when after the tape cuts back to months before the attack (the original footage that was taped over) we see something small and subtle fall from the sky and into the water near Coney Island. Does that mean it’s from space? Possibly. But the fact that it’s left ambiguous, and not ‘exposition’d’, as most movies tend to do, makes the events seem a lot more interesting!
Apart from the curiosity I felt for the most part while watching this movie, there was another key emotion that was hard to ignore: fear! It’s a genuinely scary movie, in my opinion. There are movies that classify themselves as ‘horror’ movies which I usually find either overly cheesy or more ‘gory’ than ‘scary.’ This movie however, was pretty damn terrifying at parts. Again, this largely has to do with the style the movie is shot in, as you are along for the ride with these people who are learning everything we are at the same time. There’s never anyone who knows more than the audience, and therefore you feel the terror that you would feel if you were actually in these situations and not just watching it in a theater.
Anyway, if you don’t know the plot by now, I’ll give a basic rundown of it. It’s a going away party for Rob as he accepted a job in Japan. The party is interrupted by something destroying the city, and when Rob finds out the girl he’s in love with (Beth) is trapped in her apartment, he quickly decides they need to go rescue her. So the rest of the movie is their quest to do just that, only problem is she lives in Midtown or something which I am led to believe by the character’s reactions is far from where the army is telling people to go. That’s really all there is to it, but again, it’s presented in such a unique and engaging way that it works a lot better than it sounds.
Interestingly, there is absolutely no music in the film whatsoever. Even during the ending credits (unless they come on later on, by the time I left there wasn’t any though), it was almost eerie how silent it was. There was some music in the background of the party scene, but that’s not really a ‘soundtrack’ to the movie but merely a background element. This is yet another way that it clearly established the mood of the film, and the feeling that this was a real tape they found. Isolation was a key theme in the movie and without any soundtrack to make us feel more at home, it really worked.
The sound effects were pretty standard, the big monster had your usual scream/roar type sound that is reminiscent of the T-Rex, and was pretty terrifying at times. The little baby monsters or what have you, had a pretty unique sound to them that was pretty terrifying until my friend mentioned they sounded a bit like Donald duck. Which they did. But I still found it to be a scary sound. Some might find Donald duck to be even more frightening than these things for all I know.
I left the theater confident I’d seen one of the most unique, interesting films of all time. At the time I could say without a doubt that it was one of the best movie of 2008! But that’s not saying much when it’s biggest competition was 29 Dresses (aka My Best Friend’s Wedding 2: My Sister’s Wedding to the Man I Love! UH OHHHH) and some Veggie Tales movie. Anyway, I was pretty happy with it from the moment it ended up until now. And no amount of bullshit reviews have changed my opinion yet, and I don’t think they will. I had a few gripes with the movie, but that’s natural and I always do. But they’re so trivial that it really doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
IT WAS AN ALLEGORY TO 9/11 STARRING FOUR TWENTY-SOMETHINGS UH OH MONSTER BLOOP